Roundup: LGBT community around the world

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. We end our weeklong spotlight by zooming out of the U.S. and onto firsts in the international sphere.

As LGBT rights become more prominent in the U.S., other countries are quickly catching on. Here’s a quick roundup of the latest happenings:

South Africa—

In April, South Africa (the first—and only—African country that’s legalized gay marriage) saw its first traditional gay marriage between Thoba Sithole and Cameron Modisane. From Zulu and Setswana outfits to a cow slaughter, the couple and their families spared nothing to stick to their ancestral roots.

“People are still ashamed because the vast majority of the black community is not accepting of being a homosexual. They see it as largely being a ‘Western trend’ that is in fashion lately,” Cameron told reporters at the ceremony. “[We want people to see that] being gay is as African as being black.”


Singapore—

Meanwhile, in Singapore, where sexual contact between men is still punishable with up to two years’ in jail, a less traditional movement has taken flight—in the form of an online magazine directed toward the country’s gay male community. Launched in February, Element has managed to bypass the government’s strict media laws with it’s solely online presence while still capturing the attention of readers across Asia, if not the world. Publisher Noel Ng told the Atlantic that he sees the magazine as a way “to restore the dignity and worth of every gay man.”

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Ukraine—

Shortly after Amnesty International published an article urging the Ukrainian government to introduce anti-distcriminatory legislation (following a slew of anti-gay attacks in the country), the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, held its first gay pride parade on May 25. Told to dress in comfortable shoes (for running) and non-offensive clothing, the peaceful, un-dsirupted crowd was flanked by police support and public encouragement as they marched through downtown. “This can be considered a historic day,” said Elena Semyonova, one of the event’s organizers.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Photo credit: Associated Press


Want to get involved in the LGBT cause? Search almost 6,000 nonprofit jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities, events, and like-minded people from around the world on Idealist

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Want to get involved in social change? Love yourself first

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today’s story is about one young man’s coming out journey both to himself and the world of social good.

There comes a point in your life when you have to look in the mirror, and ask,  “Who am I?”

In April this year, while I was lying in bed in the wee hours of the night, I did just this.  I picked up my phone, opened Instagram, and chose a photo that I had taken earlier that night. I typed a short paragraph that forever changed my life:

My name is Hakeem Hicks, I am an African-American college student at Clemson University and I aspire to work in the field of broadcast journalism. I am a Gates Millennium Scholar, an innovator, a leader, and a role model. I am a man of faith who has his own relationship with God. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a best friend. I am a visionary. I am an achiever. I am a conqueror…. and I am a member of the LGBT community!

With the submission of this one post I released a myriad of emotions – fear, anxiety, doubt, worry, stress, even self-hate. I had finally found the courage to share my biggest secret that I had been keeping for 15 years – I am a bisexual male.

That night I laid in bed for over an hour just thinking and contemplating on what I had done the next morning. My mind was in a whirlwind. Will my family disown me? Will my church family shun me? Would my peers treat me differently? No matter how bad the potential answers were to these questions, I was still at peace.

Growing up LGBT in South Carolina

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Hakeem showing Clemson pride.

When I was younger, I was deathly afraid to let anyone know about my sexuality. I’d been on the receiving end of taunts about “being gay and a faggot” since I was in the fourth grade and those taunts broke down my confidence and left me vulnerable.

Then as I got older and became affiliated with the church, the desire to be and do exactly what I feel in my heart got stifled even more by sermons that said I was an abomination and unrighteous. I tried to “pray the gay away.” No matter how hard I prayed or how long I fasted, my desires never died down.  So I stopped trying to be what others wanted me to be and began living just as I was created.

My coming out process took three long years. It started my junior year of high school; I came out to my best friend one random day after school. She immediately embraced me. She expressed that she had always known and even began to unsuccessfully try her best to play matchmaker.

The next step was for me to tell my mother. My mother had always raised me to not be judgmental and to walk in love; I had been exposed to members of the LGBT community my entire life and she supported them. My mom was the one person I knew would be there for me and would have no problems with me being a same-gender loving person.

I was wrong. When I came out to her last summer, she told me that I was disgusting and that I would go to hell. We didn’t speak for two whole months. I gave up on my life during the fall semester of that year. I was no longer trying to work, experience, and grow; I was just there. Friends and mentors got me through this time.

Finding purpose again

The last phase to my coming out was to let the world know. I don’t know what happened to me that night in April that pushed me to share with the world my deepest secret, but I’m glad whatever stirred my spirit that night did.  

Now as an openly bisexual male, I feel it’s my purpose to break down barriers between the heterosexual world and the non-heterosexual world. I’m blessed to be a part of two major initiatives – Gates Millennium Scholars and National Youth Pride Services (NYPS). I recently joined NYPS as a way to be a part of a team of individuals who are passionate about gay rights and collectively known as an agent of change.

I don’t know exactly what my role will be in terms of LGBT social movements, but I do know this: I’ll never turn my back on those who have to give up or hide their own individual identity. Because in the end, gay pride isn’t just about loving another man, but about loving yourself.

National Youth Pride Services (NYPS) is an organization that develops and supports black youth leaders in the LGBT community. To apply for membership or get involved, email youthpridecenter@gmail.com.

248576_1904658150504_1608657_nHakeem Hicks is a third-year student at Clemson University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. An accomplished student and a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Millennium Scholarship, Hakeem aspires to a career in broadcast journalism. He hopes to use his future platform to fight social injustices and be a role model for the young men of tomorrow.

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On God’s Campus: Bridging the gap between faith and the LGBT community

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today we’re featuring a project that is helping to make peace between two communities often at odds.



In December 2011 at the house of a George Fox University faculty member, Paul Southwick sat with a student in a secret meeting. The student was gay, suicidal, and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality on the religious campus.

“He cried and told me what he was going through, and it was what I had went through and heard other alums go through,” Paul says. “I thought, enough is enough. We need to be able to share our stories and let people know that this is the impact these policies and cultures are having. If we can personify the consequences, maybe there will be a little sympathy, and a little change.”

That moment was a catalyst for creating On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground, a video campaign and book project started in the summer of 2012 that shares the stories of LGBT youth and alumni from conservative Christian campuses across the U.S. The goal is multi-faceted: connect youth with each other so they don’t feel alone, empower both gay and straight allies to take action and create support systems on campus, and educate school counselors and staff about this community.

“The whole purpose of this project isn’t to destroy these Christian colleges. It’s actually to preserve them. Because if they don’t make some changes they’re only going keep hurting people and become less relevant,” Paul says.

The issue is personal for Paul, who was a devout Christian growing up. As a student at Oregon’s George Fox in the early 2000’s, Paul was frequently harassed and told being gay was evil. As a result he battled depression, was hospitalized for panic attacks, and sent to conversion therapy in the hopes that he would become straight.

He was embittered. It was only when he went away to law school in Michigan, where he attended churches that accepted him for who he was, that his anger calmed and he started questioning how his faith and sexuality could intersect.

Now, a full-time attorney at law firm back in Oregon, Paul dedicates his free time to On God’s Campus so that others don’t have to suffer what he did.

“I’m more of an ally to faith communities. A lot of the gay community hates the church, and for a very good reason. I’m trying in some ways to bridge that gap and also figure out where I stand myself, personally and theologically,” he says.

What he’s learned so far

The project is ongoing and a work in progress, but Paul’s realized some lessons along the way:

1. Dream big, but stay grounded.
Paul and his co-producer Tiffany Stubbert originally wanted to do 100 interviews with youth and alumni, but quickly realized that traveling to the campuses, many of which are rural and isolated, would be impractical. They’ve since scaled the number back to 50, and are close to finishing that number.

2. When the time is right, just go for it.
Right before he launched On God’s Campus, Paul suddenly started hearing about LGBT students groups popping up on campuses “like popcorn.” Wanting to take advantage of the national momentum  that he knew wasn’t going to stop, he and Tiffany hit the ground running, despite a small budget and a lack of a long-term plan.

3. Heart first, ego second.
Their website doesn’t focus on blabbering all about their project, or related news. It’s all about the stories: original content that travels far on social media because it’s real and people can relate.

“People love being able to share their story. There’s a huge sense of empowerment that comes with it,” Paul says. “It’s just that nobody has asked them before.”

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If you or anyone you know is a student or alumni of a conservative Christian college and would like to share your story, please send Paul a message at ongodscampus@gmail.com.

Keep up to date and get involved with On God’s Campus via Facebook and Twitter.

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In their own words: Portraits of LGBT youth from around the U.S.

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved.  Today we’re  featuring stories from We Are the Youth, a project from childhood friends Diana Scholl, a journalist and current Communications Strategist at the ACLU, and photographer Laurel Golio.

We Are the Youth is a photojournalism project that shares the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in the United States. Through photographic portraits and “as told to” interviews in participants’ own voices, We Are the Youth captures the incredible diversity and uniqueness of the LGBT youth population.

We created We Are the Youth in June 2010. We wanted to combine our strengths to create a project that would serve as a living archive of experiences and stories that chronicle a rapidly changing period of American LGBT rights.

Since the project was founded three years ago, we have the the fall of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the legalization of same-sex marriage in several states, a rising awareness of bullying and suicide among LGBT youth, and the changing face of queer identity, particularly among transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.

In addition to being a dynamic time in American history, We Are the Youth records a transformative period of time in the lives of the participants who are between the ages of 15 and 21 years old.

To date, we’ve profiled more than 75 young people across the U.S.  Our project is entirely a labor of love.



To enable more stories of LGBT youth to be shared, please consider making a contribution to We Are the Youth.

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Want to be more inclusive? Try creating unisex bathrooms

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today’s story is about how something as simple as a sign has helped transgender students in an Oregon high school.

In high school—a melting pot of teenage angst, drama and growth—any added stress to an already strained schedule can be the breaking point. For 17-year-old Scott Morrison, a transgender senior at Portland, Oregon’s Grant High School, this stressor came in the form of something seemingly harmless: Using the school bathroom.

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Photo via Shutterstock.

Born female, Scott identifies as male, but feels uncomfortable using either a men’s or women’s restroom due to other student’s reactions. And he’s not alone in his discomfort.  In February, Grant counselors spoke with the school’s administration about the stories they’ve heard from multiple transgender or gay students of discomfort and anxiety triggered by using gendered bathrooms.

Their solution? Unisex bathrooms.

“When I heard that students were uncomfortable, and realized that what we had was not working, I knew we had to do it,” says Kristyn Westphal, Grant Vice Principal and main instigator of the bathroom change. “It was simple, really.”

So simple that the only change, once the cooperative building manager changed the building code, the entire project cost under $300—the price of changing locks and signs on the doors of once-gendered bathrooms.

Now, three months since the idea was raised, Grant is now home to six bathrooms—four for students, two for staff—that welcome all genders, in addition to its remaining gendered facilities. And the public response couldn’t have been more receptive.

“It really is a non-issue,” Kristyn says. “Students that need them use them. We haven’t had any conflict or negative responses.”

Emily Volpert, reporter for Grant’s school paper (and who broke the original story on the bathroom switch), echoes Kristyn’s outlook.

“Most students at Grant were very accepting and understanding of this request,” Emily says. “While there will always be people who choose not to accept others for their differences, high schoolers at Grant tend to be very progressive.”

This factor likely played a role in the program’s success. Already a campus with out and supported transgender students (and an established Gay-Straight Alliance club) in a city known for its liberal ways, Grant may have a step up on other schools facing the same issues. But, Emily says, the environment of a high school campus remains universally alike—no matter where you’re trying to fit in.

“In high school, there is enough pressure that students face from grades, peers, and figuring out who you want to be,” Emily says. “For the transgender students, it’s another big problem on their plate. The installation of unisex bathrooms is really an equity issue.”

And other schools are taking note. Kristyn says that since news of the bathrooms spread, school administrators and students across the country have contacted her for advice. One California high school student even hopes to make the switch his senior project.

“It’s great how interested communities are in bringing this to their schools,” she says. “It really seems like something people need.”

Want to bring unisex bathrooms to your school, workplace, or general community? Connect with Krisytn at kwestphal@pps.net for tips and support.

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Meet the dad who started an alternative Boy Scout revolution

This post originally appeared on good.is, a global community of people who give a damn.

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Scouts from Missouri’s 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group. (Photo via Baden-Powell Service Association.)

Over the past year, alternative options to the Boy Scouts of America have spread across the U.S. like wildfire. From Portland, Oregon’s 55th Cascadia Scouts, clad in homemade kerchiefs (and named after the kitschy camp troop in the Wes Anderson movie Moonrise Kingdom), to the 5th Brooklyn Scouts in New York, building forts in Central Park as part of their wilderness survival training, the new troops are primarily formed by families fed up with discriminatory policies.

But these troops would still be up a creek without a paddle if it weren’t for one frustrated father: Missouri dad and Cub Scout leader David Atchley, the humble computer programmer who reintroduced “traditional” scouting to the U.S., and in the process, furthered LGBT and gender equality.

Six years ago, David attempted to dodge the Boy Scouts’ commitment to excluding female and gay would-be participants by asking them to let his troop be all-inclusive. Instead, they threatened to take away his pack’s membership.

So he took things into his own hands. He turned in his Eagle Scout badge (the black belt of scouting), severed all ties with the Boy Scouts of America, and began crafting the country’s first all-inclusive scouting alternative.

But he didn’t have to start from scratch. In David’s search for other scouting options, he found Europe’s Baden-Powell Service Association (the original scouting model that the U.S. Boy Scouts was founded on in 1910) and was quickly hooked by its no-nonsense approach. With straightforward, loophole-free rules laid down in 1907, the association stressed outdoors-y goals and an all-inclusive atmosphere.

After convincing some of his current scouts and local families to join forces, David started the 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group, officially igniting the BPSA U.S. program. The goal? To bring scouting back to its roots. “Sure, the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies made me leave the program, but that isn’t the focus,” says David. “It’s time we bring back traditional scouting.”

To him, this means swapping “programming” and “computer game design” merit badges for those scouting was founded on, mainly outdoor survival and navigation. David agrees that youth tech education is important—it’s just not part of the scouting platform.

“Scouting is supposed to be focused on two things: outdoor skills and public service,” he says. “These seem to have been forgotten over the years.” David’s own troop reflects these values by spending weekends cleaning up trash alongside the Missouri River and honing their campfire cooking skills on camping trips.

Soon after his troop got off the ground, he began hearing from interested parents and ex-members across the country. There are now 24 BPSA-chartered groups, from New Hampshire to New Mexico, empowering scouts and leaders of all ages, sexual orientations, and genders. David’s been the national commissioner since 2009, both arranging national events and connecting interested scouts on a local level, thanks to their site’s handy Scout Finder application.

Still, he remains modest about his program’s achievements and long-term effects on gender and sexuality biases.

“I just wanted to find another alternative for my kids, one that focused on equality and traditional scouting,” he says. “But it wasn’t a new idea. I was just the first to make the move.”

Interested in starting a local BPSA troop or know a community that’s looking for an alternative to the BSA? Contact David Atchley at david.m.atchley@gmail.com or look for nearby members on the Scout Finder.

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How one woman is helping queer religious youth embrace their identity

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

“When I came out as a queer Christian in my twenties, I went through a lot of bumpy times. It was like going through a second puberty,” says Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Crystal Cheatham. “On top of it all my church wasn’t there for me — the community I had grown up with as support. I wished someone in my youth had given me information on my identity.”

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Crystal stands outside Oklahoma Baptist University in a nonviolent demonstration with Soulforce’s Equality Ride. (Photo via Makenzie Marineau.)

Wanting to fill this gap, Crystal channeled her writing skills into creating Your IDentity Kit: For Queer Christian Youth (Your IDKit) to help youth ages 12-17 feel supported and better understand their identity coming out as a gay Christian or Fundamentalist. The educational kit contains a range of materials including a booklet that guides self-exploration, discovery cards for LGBTQ resources, and an interactive game that challenges stereotypes.

Originally “the kit was to let teens know that God did love them, even though their church, school, and government signals said otherwise.” The idea has since expanded and the kit is a book, teaching tool, and resource on the subject of queer religious identities for anyone engaging with questioning teens.

Obstacles

Crystal’s first step was to write a draft of the Your IDKit and test it out at a workshop for Philly’s William Way Community Center, an LGBTQ nonprofit. After receiving a positive response, Crystal began to focus her time on getting more feedback on the kit, and ultimately, finding some homes for it.

While making her idea a reality, Crystal encountered a few challenges along the way:

Obstacle: Addressing negative stereotypes
Solution: In the kit, Crystal emphasizes that homosexuality is not a choice, freely uses the word queer in a positive way, and shares Bible passages that demonstrate God’s acceptance of all people. In doing so, she hopes that the young people will feel empowered and the religious community will rethink their views on queer youth.

Obstacle: Funding the idea
Solution: After she had the material written, Crystal sold her Volkswagon Bug to fund the first 22 Your IDKit prototypes. She then spent a lot of time pitching the kit to prove her idea was something that could be beneficial. People began to take notice, and individual donors and organizations helped her raise money. Crystal released an eBook through Barnes & Noble this week, with proceeds going to producing more kits and offsetting expenses for workshops.

Inside Your IDKit

Obstacle: Finding additional help
Solution:
Once Crystal captured people’s interest, she found they were willing to help out where needed: logo design, filming interviews, etc. Queer affirming churches and organizations who used the kit also stepped up to donate their time, space, food, and resources.

Obstacle: Getting buy-in from religious communities
Solution:
Crystal began pitching the kit to other sources: homeless shelters, youth organizations, charter schools, and anyone who handles teens on a daily basis. “They see that there is a disconnect and that their youth need spiritual affirmation. The need is impeccably raw,” Crystal says. Her hard work paid off: come August she will be hosting weekly Your IDKit workshops at The William Way Community Center, and Soulforce, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the political and spiritual oppression of the LGBTQ community through nonviolent resistance, will also be using the kit as the basis for an educational program.

Advice

Crystal had the most trouble with learning to be patient and understanding success doesn’t happen overnight. Her biggest piece of advice is to keep moving forward.

Here’s how she thinks you can maintain momentum on your idea:

  • Clarify exactly what your idea or product is.
  • Research similar resources, organizations, and projects.
  • Build relationships and network with other professionals.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Write a business plan to shape the direction you head.

Finally, Crystal strongly believes in trusting your instincts. “There were times when my work led me to a black space,” she says. “All I could comprehend was that I had this burning passion; I knew I was doing the right thing.”
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If you’re interested in partnering with Crystal for a workshop and/or would like to support Your IDKit, don’t hesitate to email: crystal.cheatham@gmail.com.

Curious about the LGBTQ community? Crystal would love to share her insight as well as offer advice on how to network and perfect your writing.


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